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Structuring your essay

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We’ll start by looking at the introduction because this gives an excellent idea of how the whole essay is structured to answer the question. Look at the following essay question:

“Given the revelations of the Leveson inquiry, there is a serious argument for legally reducing the power of the Press." To what extent do you agree with this statement?

The key phrase in the question is ‘To what extent do you agree…’. This is similar to words like ’discuss’, ‘evaluate’ and ‘argue’. All these key words are expecting a discussion or argument in the answer.
Below is the introduction to this essay. The highlighted part directly answers the question by giving your position – your main statement. You are saying, ‘No, I don’t agree as this would have a serious impact on democracy’. In the rest of the essay, it’s your job to state why this is a reasonable position.

 
Introduction

The recent Leveson inquiry has renewed debate on the freedoms of the British Press, with some advocates suggesting that a 'fundamental shift' (Judd 2011, p56) in the rights of the Press is needed. While this fundamental shift often takes the shape of a more robust regulating committee, there are suggestions that laws should be passed that will seriously reduce the freedom of the Press by bringing it more under government control. This would have a serious impact on democracy in the UK, especially in terms of the checks and balances that investigative journalism perform in the British system, and the bias any policy would bring to the political system.
 Your main statement

Everything that you write after this is connected to this main point.

The first part of the introduction sets the context or background for your main point. In our example, the idea that ‘laws should be passed that will seriously reduce the freedom of the Press’ sets the context for your main statement, `This would have a serious impact on democracy in the UK’.

Introduction

The recent Leveson inquiry has renewed debate on the freedoms of the British Press, with some advocates suggesting that a 'fundamental shift' (Judd 2011, p56) in the rights of the Press is needed. While this fundamental shift often takes the shape of a more robust regulating committee, there are suggestions that laws should be passed that will seriously reduce the freedom of the Press by bringing it more under government control. This would have a serious impact on democracy in the UK, especially in terms of the checks and balances that investigative journalism perform in the British system, and the bias any policy would bring to the political system.

Context

This sets the context for your main point. It’s often the current situation or the other side of the argument. It should have enough detail so that the reader understands your main point.
Your main statement

Everything that you write after this is connected to this main point.


After your main statement, there is often a breakdown of reasons or smaller points further explaining your statement. For example, in the above introduction we’re saying that ‘bringing it under government control would have a serious impact on democracy’ because it would:

  • reduce the checks and balances that investigative journalism brings
  • bring bias into the political system


Introduction

The recent Leveson inquiry has renewed debate on the freedoms of the British Press, with some advocates suggesting that a 'fundamental shift' (Judd 2011, p56) in the rights of the Press is needed. While this fundamental shift often takes the shape of a more robust regulating committee, there are suggestions that laws should be passed that will seriously reduce the freedom of the Press by bringing it more under government control. This would have a serious impact on democracy in the UK, especially in terms of the checks and balances that investigative journalism perform in the British system, and the bias any policy would bring to the political system.

Context

This sets the context for your main point. It’s often the current situation or the other side of the argument. It should have enough detail so that the reader understands your main point.
Your main statement

Everything that you write after this is connected to this main point.
More explanation

These are the main reasons why you wrote your main point. These reasons will be very connected to your paragraphs.


Your final sentence can also act as a road map for the rest of your essay. Each point that follows the main statement will be the main idea of a particular paragraph in the body of your essay. The table below shows how our introduction connects to the first sentences of the paragraphs of the essay:


Introduction

The recent Leveson inquiry has renewed debate on the freedoms of the British Press, with some advocates suggesting that a 'fundamental shift' (Judd 2011, p56) in the rights of the Press is needed. While this fundamental shift often takes the shape of a more robust regulating committee, there are suggestions that laws should be passed that will seriously reduce the freedom of the Press by bringing it more under government control. This would have a serious impact on democracy in the UK, especially in terms of the checks and balances that investigative journalism perform in the British system, and the bias any policy would bring to the political system.
Paragraphs

Paragraph One (The current situation) starts:

A number of commentators have suggested that laws should be passed to further control the freedom of the Press. Hale (2012), for example, cites …

Paragraph Two starts:

This potential move towards this system, however, may well have a negative impact on the quality of investigative journalism in the UK. This is supported by …

Paragraph Three starts:

A further issue is the political bias that may be the result of more government regulation. Brown (2012), for instance, gives the example of France…

Now try the Structure of introductions exercise.

Essay structure and conclusions

Often the main conclusions are in the paragraphs in the main body of your essay. (See the Developing an argument in Paragraphing for more on this.) The conclusion at the end of your work is usually a summary of the conclusions you have been drawing throughout your essay.

For example, look at the following question and introduction:

“Given the revelations of the Leveson inquiry, there is a serious argument for legally reducing the power of the Press." To what extent do you agree with this statement?

    The recent Leveson inquiry has renewed debate on the freedoms of the British Press, with some advocates suggesting that a 'fundamental shift' (Judd 2011, p56) in the rights of the Press is needed. While this fundamental shift often takes the shape of a more robust regulating committee, there are suggestions that laws should be passed that will seriously reduce the freedom of the Press by bringing it more under government control. This would have a serious impact on democracy in the UK, especially in terms of the checks and balances that investigative journalism perform in the British system, and the bias any policy would bring to the political system.

    Context

    1. Main Point
    2. Road Map
    (investigative journalism and bias)

    The end of the introduction (the road map) tells us the main points of the essay. In this example, these main points are that reducing freedom of the press would impact democracy because it would affect:
    • investigative journalism
    • bias in UK politics

    Introduction

    Below you can see how these two points in the road map (investigative journalism and bias) form the basis for the paragraphs in the main body of the essay:

    First sentence of Paragraph One

    A number of commentators have suggested that laws should be passed to further control the freedom of the Press. Hale (2012), for example cites...

    First sentence of Paragraph Two

    This potential move towards this system, however, may well have a negative impact on the quality of investigative journalism in the UK. This is supported by...

    First sentence of Paragraph Three

    A further issue is the political bias that may be the result of more government regulation. Brown (2010), for example, gives the example of France...



    the current situation



    investigative journalism




    bias

    Paragraphs

    In the conclusion, we can see the same ideas coming up again.

    Conclusion

    The Leveson inquiry has led to a number of calls for the tightening of press regulations by the government but this essay has argued that, although further control may reduce such activities as phone hacking, it would also have a negative effect on the British media and democratic process. In terms of investigative journalism, any further control would prevent journalists from pursuing stories which, if made public, can expose activities that are detrimental to the country. This would be particularly evident in politics, which, arguably, needs a tension between the rhetoric of politicians and the media to prevent bias in the system.

    Now try the Structure of conclusions exercise to check your understanding



    investigative journalism

    bias

    Conclusion

    Summary

    In this guide we have looked at one way to structure an essay into parts and how these parts are related, for example:

      • starts with some context or background to the question
      • sets out your main statement in answer to the question
      • includes the main points or reasons supporting your main statement – this gives a ‘road map’ of what you will cover in the essay

      The introduction

      • covers each of the main points from your introduction
      • deals with each point within separate paragraphs

      The main body

      • revisits the main statement you made in the introduction
      • restates the same supporting reasons/points in the same order

      The conclusion

      If you’re not sure about structuring essays, it would be helpful to go back through this guide and also the Planning your answer section, redoing all the exercises. Together, these topics take you through the steps of organising your answer to the question and then presenting it as clear paragraphs with a good introduction and conclusion.

      If you are preparing an assignment, you might now want to try planning the introduction and linking it to the main points of each paragraph and the conclusion.

      For more guidance on the first steps of answering the essay question, see Planning your answer.

      For detailed guidance on expressing your ideas within individual paragraphs see Paragraphing.